[March 1 note: After this article was published, the chair of Parks & Rec said in an email that Carl Mason and Steve Haberstroh did not attend the Friday meeting of the “Tennis Committee,” and that the gathering didn’t constitute such a committee meeting.]
The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted unanimously to postpone a vote on a proposed set of fees for tennis passes at Mead Park this summer after learning that the government body behind the proposal came up with the figures during a meeting held out of the public eye.
Each year, the Parks & Recreation Commission reviews what the town charges for different types of tennis passes at Mead and makes a recommendation to the selectmen ahead of the season.
The fees proposed for this year originated with a Parks & Rec “tennis committee” that met Friday, according to Recreation Director Steve Benko, who presented the item to the selectmen.
That revelation led First Selectman Kevin Moynihan to say he was “confused by the process here.”
“You said there was a meeting last Friday,” Moynihan said during the Board’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “Are these the rates recommended by the Commission?”
Benko answered that he attended a meeting Friday with Commission Chair Sally Campbell and the appointed body’s “tennis committee”—in addition to Campbell, it includes Steve Haberstroh and Carl Mason—“and we talked about it and they decided to revise the fees.”
When Moynihan asked further whether the committee “had a public meeting last Friday,” Benko said no.
“It wasn’t a public meeting,” he said. “We had a committee meeting.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, a subcommittee of government bodies is itself a public agency that must open its meetings to the public. Last year, the state Freedom of Information Commission voted unanimously against the town following a complaint brought by NewCanaanite.com in a case involving subcommittee work of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee. The state’s findings that New Canaan violated state sunshine laws led to a FOI training session held last month at Town Hall. Mason was the only member of the Parks & Recreation Commission to attend it.
The selectmen stopped short of calling Friday’s meeting of the “tennis committee” illegal.
Saying that the full Parks & Rec Commission should vote on the fees, Moynihan moved that the selectmen table approval until a future meeting. Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams joined him in voting in favor of the motion.
Williams said, “Putting aside the meeting issue, which is a separate issue, isn’t that the normal process, that subcommittees make a recommendation to Parks & Rec?”
Moynihan asked whether there would be a problem with the timing in terms of selling passes if Parks & Rec came back for approval in March. Benko said the Commission could take it up at its March 13 meeting and return for approval after that.
The proposed fees themselves are to be lower than what is posted now for the 2019 season on the municipal website, as follows:
|Original Proposed Fee||Proposed Fee Post-"Tennis Committee" Meeting|
|Guest (per day)||$10||$10|
In addition, Benko said, the town would sell 100 passes to nonresidents at $195 apiece.
Williams asked whether the reduction in pass costs reflected less usage of the courts.
Benko noted that last summer a contractor became too busy to fulfill his obligation to the town and so the Mead Park courts weren’t ready until the middle of June. This year, a different contractor has vowed to get four courts open by the first week of May, he said.
As discussed at this month’s meeting of the Parks & Rec Commission, Benko also said that officials are looking to boost interest in tennis.